Highlights from the 2021 World Manufacturing Foundation Report

The World Manufacturing Foundation (WMF) is a dynamic platform that aims to bring economic and environmental growth and stability to the global manufacturing industry. The WMF brings together various manufacturing stakeholders to meet the needs of the evolving challenges being faced in the sector. 

The 2021 World Manufacturing: Digitally Enabled Circular Manufacturing report provides the latest insights, potential shortcomings, and key recommendations of the current circular manufacturing (CM) climate. Irene Sterian, President & CEO of REMAP, was a key contributor to the final WMF report, which is summarized by section to bring its most salient points to light.

Circular Manufacturing: A State of Play

The 2021 WMF report focuses specifically on the current digital technologies (DT) currently available to support the increased push by the manufacturing industry in CM. The recent adoption and acceptance of CM in the sector focus specifically on reducing waste and how DT can assist that mission. This change in thinking is illustrated in Figure 1.

Circular Economy Diagram
 Figure 1 - Circular Economy Diagram

The report looked at both the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and several other factors to evaluate current progress and what still needed to be addressed. The report found that there was still a good amount of work that needed to be done regarding incentives, business models, and stakeholders in enforcing good practices for CM. These were then discussed with regard to the five strategic goals of CM, as shown in Figure 2:

Figure 2 - 5 Strategic Goals of CM
Figure 2 - 5 Strategic Goals of CM

The report then went into detail, describing how each of these goals could be reached, taking into consideration what was currently occurring and what resources were available. The various challenges being faced were described in great detail and compared to the global footprint presented. 

The WMF report noted that the results of current efforts of applying the strategic goals so far had shown that the benefits to manufacturers using CM far exceeded the alternatives. The benefits include waste reduction, job creation, climate protection, and more. 

Digital Technologies for Circular Manufacturing 

It was then discussed how DT could be a catalyst for value chains in manufacturing. Data collected in the report had shown how companies (specifically European companies) had started making investments directly related to sustainability and CM in general.

 Figure 3 - Sustainable Investments
 Figure 3 - Sustainable Investments

The report further highlighted that the immediate goal that needed to be achieved through DT was extending the resource lifecycle to fully use it without any waste. It also stated that this was not only a manufacturing issue but a user issue in general. 

DT had shown that it could obtain the three key objectives set out: reduced emissions, resource maximization, and waste reduction. There was also a specific emphasis placed on the reduction of waste as the main driver in improving manufacturing processes. A case study was presented in how the steel industry could use augmented reality (AR) to retain vital learned skills as an aging and diminishing workforce. 

Policy Developments and Enablers for Circular Manufacturing

For any aspects of DT to occur, there would be an increased need to bring about and implement better policies. Recorded data were used to show how the often-linear take-make-waste approach was taking a toll on the planet. 

The need for policy development was contextualized with the UN 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. For real policy development to occur, the report showed that clear and identifiable goals would be needed. These goals would support and pave the way for sustainability in terms of the scope of the WMF. It was identified that Sustainable Development Goal 12 (SDG 12) would best represent this scope. Even though the CM was not explicitly mentioned, its essence was discussed. See Figure 4 for context.

Figure 4 - SDG 12
Figure 4 - SDG 12

The report then further discussed how the CM process was vital in the global sphere. It stated that the shortcomings of methods that negatively impacted the earth would need to be addressed by going digital post-COVID-19. This showcased that the need for Green Development (GD) is more vital than ever.  

The WMF report broke down the goals and results that local regions had made towards GD. It was very brief but extremely thorough in its evaluation. 

 Having now discussed what the present conditions were like worldwide and which goals needed to be set, the WMF created a vital and practical list of crucial recommendations for the benefits of GD to become a reality. 

10 Key Recommendations by the WMF

These key recommendations correlate with the findings discussed in the report:

  1. Promoting a circular company mindset that embraces the opportunities of the circular economy and the enabling role of DT
  2. Driving circularity through consumer responsibility, proactivity, and conscious decision making
  3. Enabling co-operation among relevant stakeholders in building circular value chains
  4. Promoting business models and value propositions that embrace circularity
  5. Implementing policies globally that recognize digital technologies as the primary enabler for CM
  6. Promoting economic measures that drive the transition to the circular economy and adoption of enabling technologies
  7. Training the workforce for digitally-enabled circular manufacturing
  8. Leveraging data to support the circular change in the manufacturing process
  9. Empowering SMEs in their transition to circular manufacturing
  10. Addressing the possible negative environmental impact of digital technologies

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

The report made a thorough and well-researched argument about why CM is vital to improving manufacturing’s climate impact. The potential to reap the benefits of transforming our industry is clear and evident.

It was also highlighted that the current reality versus ideal goals is the biggest challenge that would need to be overcome in the coming years. It was shown that DT was vital in reaching SDG 12 a reality and that the need to do so was a burden that every person carries, whether they realize it or not. The time for action is now.